Hey South Texans, the three feet of rain from Hurricane Harvey may not be your biggest problem this week. According to the Washington Post, it may be white supremacists.
“When crises of state and storm collide in an already anxious nation, the thirst for stability has led too many to the well of white supremacy,” wrote Andy Horowitz, a professor history at Tulane University in New Orleans in a piece for the Post.
The location of this storm exacerbates the threat, Horowitz wrote. In 1900, Galveston, which is within a few miles of the landfall point for Hurricane Harvey, was nearly destroyed by a hurricane. A 15-foot wall of water inundated the city, killing more than 6,000 people and perhaps 10,000. In the aftermath, the tales grew even taller.
There was looting of dead bodies, pestilence from so many decaying bodies unburied, a second Johnstown flood, only worse, wrote John Coulter in “The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror.” “There was no escape. Only Death! Death! Everywhere!”
Horowitz goes on to quote quite a bit of the Coulter book before saying, “Did that really happen? Probably not.”
Nor, he admitted, did the other stories he recounted of widespread looting, such as how the “pockets of some looters were fairly bulging out with fingers of the dead, which had been cut off because they were so swollen the rings could not be removed” or the ears cut off to mine the earrings within.
It was all to stir up fears among white people in Galveston so they would attack black people, Horowitz said. And it was unique because usually, according to research he did not cite, widespread looting “(as opposed to what amounts to foraging for necessities) is rare.”
An odd comment from a man who works in New Orleans, which was looted down to its last flat screen TV after Hurricane Katrina.
So no one was truly looting or truly cutting off fingers and ears, but, according to Horowitz, tales of militias being formed to randomly kill black people were more believable. White men were herded into an ad hoc militia, he wrote, to get the town under martial law as quickly as possible. “If anyone resists your authority,” the commander reportedly wrote, “Shoot.”
“Did that really happen?” he asked. “Probably. Murder often masqueraded as justice in Jim Crow America.”
There is no justification for killing anyone on account of race, but somehow, Horowitz can find absolutely credible stories from an area that had no power, no warning of the storm, no written records and no accurate accounts – and the only supposedly original reporting of which he deems to be probably untrue.
He takes on the commission form of government that emerged from the disaster. In a commission form, all members of a city council run citywide. Rather than represent districts within the city, they represent competencies – a commissioner of public safety would be in charge of fire and police, a commissioner of finance in charge of the city’s taxes and accounting, etc.
Woodrow Wilson said of the Galveston plan that “no single movement of reform in our governmental methods has been more significant.” Which is not surprising since he consistently supported a government of experts and bureaucrats similar to what plagues Washington today.
And Horowitz is right that this did dilute black voting strength – indeed, the commission form of city government died out across America under a combination of court orders and incidents that proved its ineffectiveness.
But could this all come roaring back with the storm clouds of Harvey? Horowitz, incredibly, thinks so.
“How distant is that past?” Horowitz wrote. “White men in fatigues, bearing guns, are taking to the streets today, using violent intimidation to defend the legacy of the Confederacy. A federal court is considering whether Texas violated minority voting rights when it redrew its congressional districts in 2011. Earlier this week, Texas’ voter ID law, supported by the Trump administration, was struck down by as federal court. The judge compared the law to a poll tax on minorities.”
His conclusion is absurd. Chaos in a storm in 1900 is different from chaos in a storm in 2017 in dozens of ways. For one, the storm is anticipated and planned for. For another, rather than a blackout of reliable news coverage, it will be covered to the hilt. Anyone who loots or shoots looters will do so with cameras rolling.
And if white men in fatigues come into what will be a flooded, snake-ridden, dangerous area to defend the legacy of the Confederacy, then black-clad men in masks – the fascist Antifa group – will show up to fight them. Which many would argue would be the perfect time for another 15-foot wall of water.
Texans have a lot to worry about with this storm. The rainfall predictions are frightening and, in many cases, unprecedented. The storm is expected to stall out, meaning the cleanup and the waters receding may not even begin for a week or more.
That’s a lot on their plates. Raising what Horowitz called “the extralegal spectacle of lynching masked as the law itself, the violent fantasies at the heart of white supremacy and the ongoing human tragedy of racial terror” seems like yet another attempt by the Washington Post to tie anything bad – natural storms, disasters, even things that have not yet even occurred – to President Trump.
There is a lot more danger in the hysteria being whipped up by the Post than racism whipped up by this storm, and if the Post had any shame left, it would recognize this. Alas, it doesn’t.